Published January 13, 2015
President Laurent Gbagbo agreed Friday to a cease-fire signed by rebels, lifting hopes for a return to peace in the West African country after a bloody monthlong uprising.
Rebels signed the truce Thursday and mediators said the insurgents would hold talks with the government in a bid to return stability to the Ivory Coast.
"I can say today that I accept the framework of this accord as a basis for negotiation," Gbagbo said in a midnight address on national television. He also appealed to France for help in monitoring the cease-fire.
The fighting killed hundreds of people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes as it unleashed long-simmering ethnic, political and religious tensions in Ivory Coast, once an oasis of stability in turbulent West Africa.
Tuo Fozie, a rebel official, signed the cease-fire with West African mediators in the central city of Bouake, which the rebels have held since the start of the uprising on Sept. 19.
Government spokesman Toussaint Alain claimed that even after rebels signed the agreement, they attacked loyalist forces in an attempt to break through government lines Thursday evening north of Daloa, a city in the southwest.
The rebel cease-fire was to begin at midnight, allowing the government time to announce that it, too, accepted an end to hostilities, said Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, one of the mediators.
"We want both sides to be separate on the ground, remain in position and refrain from engaging in offensive action," Gadio said.
He said the rebels accepted that cities they control be resupplied "and that the administration of those towns begin again, even if it's not yet ideal."
At the core of the insurgency are 750-800 ex-soldiers, many dismissed from the army for suspected disloyalty. Their uprising gathered support from Ivorians in the north, who feel poorly treated by the country's southern-based government.
"The insurgents agreed to end hostilities and accept talks with the government to redress their grievances," said mediator Mohammed Ibn Chambas. The truce provides "a framework of principles to bring an end to the ongoing crisis through dialogue and negotiations," he said.
Even so, prospects for lasting peace still seemed uncertain.
Speaking before word of Thursday's signing, army spokesman Col. Jules Yao Yao said Ivorian forces back talks but "reserve the right to break that engagement and go on the offensive."
Yao Yao said government soldiers killed three rebels in repelling an attack in the eastern city of Bondoukou on Wednesday night.
In Daloa, a city in Ivory Coast's western cocoa belt that fell Sunday to the rebels but was recaptured in a government counterattack, security forces used tear gas and fired into the air to disperse looters Thursday, said a resident contacted by phone.
Between Yamoussoukro, the capital, and Issia, a town in the southwest, young men with spears, hunting rifles, machetes and homemade bows manned roadblocks they made themselves with trees, tables and tires.
Many were dressed as traditional warriors, with charcoal-daubed faces. They stopped and searched cars and checked papers. They said they wanted to protect their villages from any rebel attack.
The mediators worked from peace proposals initiated by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who heads the Economic Community of West African States, a regional grouping.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Wade said the rebels, who have seized much of the northern half of Ivory Coast, would hold their positions during peace talks.
One potential sticking point was whether rebels would be restricted to barracks -- as President Gbagbo wants -- or be allowed to move freely within towns and cities they hold, one of Wade's advisers said.
Wade gave a copy of the peace proposals to the AP and it did not mention confining rebels to barracks.
The rebels had indicated Sunday that they agreed in principle to the cease-fire. But they waited until Thursday to sign -- partly because they suspected that the government was bringing in Angolan troops to fight.
In a newspaper interview published Thursday, Gbagbo said his government bought weapons and ammunition from Angolan firms but "there are no Angolan soldiers here."
Angola's embassy in Ivory Coast has denied that its troops were there. But a European foreign minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said 500 Angolan troops are in Ivory Coast.